Eight reasons that even a good book is rejected by publishers

From Scroll.in:

Several years ago, as an aspiring novelist with stardust in my eyes, I used to spend most of my waking hours in Yahoo’s Books and Literature chatroom in the company of fellow aspiring writers. I clearly remember how one of the main topics of conversations used to be the number of rejection slips one had received on that particular day (or the previous week), agents/publishers who had requested a synopsis or proposal, and those who had just not bothered to respond. All of us were united by the looming sense of uncertainty, suspense, and the palpable realisation that the odds were firmly stacked against us.

Today, having spent more than seven years on the other side, first as a consultant and then an agent, I think many writers have wrong notions about rejections. While most books are rejected because of poor quality and incompetence (as they should be), there are several other factors that play a role in publishing decisions. And these affect “good” books too.

A book with no market

Good books are often rejected at the acquisitions meetings at publishing companies, where people from sales and marketing factor in the target audience, potential print runs, and profit margins. Rejections are more common in case of fiction ( especially genre fiction), poetry and short story collections. Several publishers have revised their minimum print run from 2,000/3,000 copies to 5,000.

As a result, books with a dedicated readership and market no larger than 3,000 buyers are being turned down. This partly explains the palpable shift towards publishing books written or at least driven by celebrities, or mass market books like the ones by Savi Sharma and Ajay K Pandey.

A book by a writer with no network or marketing abilities

Writers are increasingly being asked to be closely involved in promotional activities for their books. While some of them might be open to the idea, others feel that it is their works that should be doing the talking. One question that writers are sometimes asked: how many books can you sell within your existing networks – both professional and personal?

Sometimes a writer is also asked about their contacts with the media and with celebrities and influencers who can be roped in for blurbs and high-profile launches. In today’s age of literary festivals, it helps to know some influential festival directors as well. Eminently publishable books are at times rejected in the absence of such contacts or commitments.

. . . .

A book evaluated by the wrong editor

Authors often end up sending their submissions to the wrong editor: a commercial novel may end up in a literary editor’s inbox, or a mind- body-spirit title, in that of the current affairs editor’s. Even when the submission may have reached the right editor, they may not be too familiar with the subject. The more conscientious among the editors will not sign up even an eminently publishable book if they feel they won’t be able to add any value to it. Such misdirected submissions are wasted opportunities, since publishing houses rarely reconsider books, even if they feel they have been read by an unsuitable editor.

Link to the rest at Scroll.in and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Red Flag Alert: Loiacono Literary Agency, Swetky Literary Agency, Warner Literary Group

From Writer Beware:

In the late 1990s, when Writer Beware first started up, the digital revolution was just peeking over the horizon. Traditional publishing was still the only path to publication, and literary agents were the principal gatekeepers.

As a result, there existed a huge and lucrative subculture of scam literary agents, who fed on writers’ hunger for publication and turned the (false) promise of access into money. Upfront fees, editing referral schemes, vanity publishing scams: the list was endless.

No more. With the enormous growth of small presses and the expanding number of self-publishing options, agents are no longer the be-all and end-all of a writing career, and fewer writers decide to seek them.

. . . .

There’s an impressively large list of book placements on the website of Loiacono Literary Agency (motto: “Where ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary!”). In this case, though, size isn’t everything, because apart from a handful of sales to larger publishing houses, most of the books have been placed with small presses that don’t require authors to be agented. For most of the publishers Loiacono has worked with, the authors likely could have placed the books on their own and saved themselves a commission.

This isn’t why you hire an agent. Another thing you don’t hire an agent for: hooking you up with vanity publishers. A very large number of books on Loiacono’s list have been placed with Argus Publishing. Argus, which has also done business as A Better Be Write, A Book 4 You, and A-Argus Book Better Book Publishers, charges a four-figure publishing fee.

. . . .

The 25 or so book placements claimed by The Swetky Literary Agency (don’t you love that dawn-of-the-web vibe) is much, much smaller than the list claimed by Loiacono.

In other ways, though, it’s similar. There’s a handful of placements with reputable independent and specialty presses; the rest are “sales” to vanity publishers (Koehler Books) and small presses that authors can work with on their own. Also, even if every one of Swetky’s book placements were impeccably reputable, 25 sales over the nearly 15 years the agency has been in business is a pretty sad track record.

. . . .

I’ve heard from multiple writers to whom Faye Swetky offered representation or the possibility of representation, and then told them that their manuscripts needed editing. Fortunately, she knew a terrific editor who might be willing to work with them: David J. Herda, a much-published author of nonfiction.

. . . .

Sarah Warner, principal of the Warner Literary Group, has an impressive background as an acquisitions editor. It would seem to be the perfect set of qualifications for a successful literary agent.

And yet, Warner’s track record is tiny. Since the agency’s founding in 2011, she appears to have made just 12 deals. Seven of these are with solid publishers–but the rest are books by agency clients that have been placed with the agency’s own publishing division, Hedgehog & Fox. In fact, with the exception of one book authored by Ms. Warner herself, the whole of Hedgehog & Fox’s miniscule list appears to be made up of agency clients.

Something else agency clients have in common: lawsuits. Warner Literary Group has been sued by three of its authors–a huge percentage for such a small agency.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Is It Time, Dear Writer, To Ditch Your Literary Agent?

From Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds:

It used to happen once every couple of months. Then once every month, now I’m up to about once a week. What I’m talking about is, authors emailing me to see if it’s time to leave their agents.

When this happens, the writer often frames it like, “Well, how do you and your agent do things?”

And I say things like:

ME: She sells my books? I dunno, I write them, and then Stacia helps them navigate the BOILING CHAOS STORM that is the publishing industry?

THEM: But what about emails?

ME: Emails, like, Hillary’s emails?

THEM: No, does your agent answer your emails?

ME: Well, of course.

THEM: In what timeframe?

ME: A reasonable one? Actually, an unreasonably fast one, usually — within the day, sometimes within the hour. Pretty fast turnaround to questions and stuff.

THEM: She not only responds to your emails, but she responds to them quickly?

ME: She does, and in fact endures a great deal of nonsense from me, including occasional Career Freakouts and other psychological gesticulations. But given your response, I’m guessing yours doesn’t… respond at all?

And from there, we uncover a host of uncomfortable sins. And this can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the agent is wrong for you, or you’re wrong for her. Maybe she’s too new. Maybe she has too many clients. Maybe you’re too small a client and she’s got bigger beasts to hunt. Maybe she’s a terrible agent — or maybe you need to recalibrate your needs.

I never really like to recommend that a writer leave her agent — not because that’s a bad idea, but because I’m not comfortable being the one to say, YEAH, TIME TO JUMP OUTTA THE PLANE, as that’s awfully easy for me to say, because I’m buckled up in a nice, cozy seat. Telling you to do the hard thing is easy when I don’t have to do it with you. Plus, then you jump out of the plane, get sucked into a turbine, are turned into a red mist, oops.

. . . .

1. Your agent doesn’t communicate with you in a timely manner — or at all. That’s not good. Your agent is the champion of your book and ostensibly, your career. They are its babysitter — and I don’t mean that dismissively, I mean, you want your child to be in capable hands, and further, you want that babysitter to answer the phone if you would like to find out how your baby is doing. If you go weeks without hearing anything from an agent, or months, or forever, you have a problem. It probably means they forgot your baby at the mall.

. . . .

5. Your agent doesn’t seem to like your chosen genres. This is also a thing. You write erotic epic choose-your-own-adventure books, your agent reps self-help books for narcoleptic parrot-owners, and ne’er the two shall meet. You want an agent familiar with the genre of what you write, not just in terms of the books themselves but also in terms of the industry circles and imprints that support that genre.

. . . .

8. The agent seems to be on the side of the publisher, not the author. An agent who defends unethical publishing behaviors is not an agent you want to have. You certainly don’t want an agent who is hostile to publishing, and who has a realistic view of what you can get away with and what slings and arrows you’re probably going to have to suffer — further, you also don’t want to be a prima donna to the agent, acting like, WELL, YOU DIDN’T GET ME A MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE SO OBVIOUSLY YOU LOVE THE PUBLISHER MORE THAN ME. But at the same time, an agent who seems to be more interested in protecting his relationship with the publisher than the relationship he shares with you, the author… eek, yeah, no, not good.

Link to the rest at Terrible Minds and thanks to Lou for the tip.

When your agent wants to charge you a fee

From QueryTracker Blog:

There are two kinds of lousy agents. The first is the scammer, the kind who wants to get money from authors without in any way performing the services an actual agent ought to perform. When you know the basics about the business, you’ll recognize those. They ask you for money just to read your manuscript and refer you for “necessary” editing services to their friends, many of whom are actually themselves operating under a different business name.

The second kind of lousy agent is just…slippery. That agent is harder to recognize from the outside. While you know to run from agents who charge reading fees, for example, what do you do about one who brings up “administrative charges” after the contract is signed?

Today a writer sent me a copy of an email his agent had sent him. This agent is a legit agent at a legit agency. It’s just that….well, you’ll see.

The agent sent the writer an email about changes to their literary agency agreement, with the expectation that the writer would sign it and be thrilled. (Note: I’ve removed all references to The agency and rephrased in order to clarify in parts. The content is the same, and I verified on the agency’s website.)

In the current contract, the only charges are for any extraoridinary expenses that may occur (courier services, foreign exchange, etc.), $250.00 per year, and a $500.00 cancellation fee should the author wish to terminate the contract.

Please note: don’t sign a contract with that stipulation. Why should the author be charged a fee to break the contract? There’s no matching fee for the agent if the agent decides to fire the writer, after all. Usually an agented writer is pleased to stay onboard. When the writer wants to leave, often it’s because the writer has issues with the way the agent is representing the manuscript. By charging this ridiculous contract-breaking fee, the agent has stated that s/he would rather have a bitter, angry client than just part ways amicably.

. . . .

Then we get to the fun part, where the agency describes their new contract, introducing an administrative fee structure:

The first year we represent a manuscript we charge five hundred dollars ($500.00), then an additional two hundred fifty dollars $250.00 each year until we place it with a publisher. Upon securing a publishing contract, the agency receives 15% of net revenues.

On their website, they try to sweeten the deal: they explain that this fee helps them partner with writers who are serious and willing to invest in their careers.

. . . .

This agent seriously wants you to fork over five hundred bucks before even starting the job, and that $500 won’t come out of the advance when the book sells. Then, if the agent fails to sell your book in one year, the agent gets rewarded with an additional $250.

Link to the rest at QueryTracker Blog and thanks to Deb for the tip.